We’re thrilled to announce that construction on our new organ has begun in Durham, England at Harrison & Harrison, with a scheduled installation in 2022.
Learn more about this historic project!
The current organs of Christ Church Greenwich were built by Austin Organs, Inc of Hartford CT, in 1976. The Gallery Organ, opus 2599, was built first, followed by the Chancel Organ, opus 2600; they replaced a much more modest Möller instrument of 2901 pipes. The stoplists are along broadly German and French lines respectively, and the organs contain 6365 pipes.
The Christ Church Vestry began to consider the future of the organ as part of the 2013 Capital Campaign. It appointed a subcommittee, which commissioned an assessment of the Austin organs from Jonathan Ambrosino, one of America’s leading organ consultants. His report revealed the extent of work required to restore the instruments to top condition.
Considerable work was undertaken in the fall of 2014. Requests for Proposal were sent to five companies, of which two presented to the subcommittee. The prospective cost of restoration was so high that the committee decided to explore the option of replacement.
Proposals for replacement were requested from six varied companies, and it became clear that the cost of replacing the current instruments with one better suited to our needs, was in the same range as the cost of restoring the organs. The committee decided that the path forward was not restoration but replacement, and this proposal was accepted by the Vestry in February 2015.
Over the following months, Jamie Hitel, Jonathan Ryan, Philip Moore, and George Belshaw, visited over thirty instruments around the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. A shortlist of three builders was created.
Jamie and the committee found Harrison & Harrison to be the builder that speaks the same musical language as the congregation and choirs at Christ Church Greenwich. The company has a long history of successfully building organs that accompany hymns and choral repertoire with warmth and color. Their instruments are designed to be able to play a large repertoire of music – including performing as a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble. They stand alone in their deep knowledge and expertise in being able to build within the constraints of a neo-gothic structure. They are famous for their ability to contend with the restriction of organ chambers, and are very familiar with our liturgy and Anglican traditions.
The Vestry accepted the subcommittee’s findings in October 2015. Following the Capital Campaign, the Vestry, encouraged by the enthusiasm of new Rector Marek Zabriskie, voted to proceed with the project and sign a contract with Harrison & Harrison in January 2019.
The new Harrison and Harrison organ at Christ Church is designed as a landmark instrument to serve the community of Christ Church, those that attend the church through the year, the town of Greenwich, and musicians from the United States and beyond.
In planning the new instrument, our principal considerations were the acoustics in the church, and our primary needs. The organ committee identified these needs as:
- Providing solid accompanimental support for liturgy, especially supporting congregational singing.
- Providing sensitive choral accompaniments, with the flexibility to adapt to varying configurations of our eight choirs.
- An instrument capable of giving a good account of organ repertoire from the 16th century to the present day.
The new instrument will be rich in foundation tone. The core will be the Great Organ, which will sing from a magnificent new case in the East Transept. This will be supported by the substantial Pedal division, in particular through the large scale of its Open Wood and Open Diapason ranks. These are designed to fill the church with bass sound and encourage congregational singing.
New cases overlooking the choir stalls on both sides will house the Choir and Swell Organs. These divisions will form the bedrock of choral accompaniment and are ideally placed for supporting choral singing with organ tone on both sides. They include the quietest stops in the instrument, and will be able to accompany the choirs with a wide and varied palette of color without overwhelming them.
The Solo Organ has dual purpose. Situated behind the Great Organ, it will add warmth and color, particularly when the organ is leading communal singing. The Solo Organ also houses the “orchestral” division of the instrument, and within its box is the woodwind department, including a Clarinet, an Oboe, and a French Horn. These stops provide vital colors for choral accompaniment and the performance of Romantic organ repertoire.
The Solo and Swell Organs will both be in specially designed boxes, which will increase the organ’s expressiveness and flexibility. Harrison & Harrison are renowned for the effectiveness of their expression boxes, and when they are closed, the organ will be able to produce a pianissimo roar!
On the West side of the church, a new organ chamber will open into the transept, so that the organ will be heard from both sides (a kind of ‘stereo’ effect) by those seated in the nave.
The new organ will retain and restore the Harp and Chimes from the current instrument, and will include both a Cymbelstern and a Glockenstern, for bell effects. The crowning glory of the instrument will be a commanding Tuba Mirabilis, capable of projecting melodies over full organ, and a Trompeta Real, an occasional register for fanfares situated high above the church’s entrance doors.
We have also been mindful to ensure the instrument can play as much organ repertoire as possible. It will be rooted in the Anglican tradition and its liturgical focus will also suit it to British and American music. There will be well balanced choruses ideal for performing the music of J.S. Bach and his contemporaries. The terraced nature of the manual divisions will suit the performance of French and German Romantic music, and there will be sufficient high pitched mutations and dramatic sounds to play modern music of all schools.
All of this will be achieved in an instrument of 4639 pipes, 1700 fewer than the current organ. Together they will inspire future generations in raising their voices to God.